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Narcissism has nothing to do with self-love since the narcissist cannot love anyone, not even himself. Rather narcissism involves self-infatuation. The narcissist has a craving for superficial love and affection as an addict is driven by longing for hollow feelings of intoxication. A very fragile self-esteem, often even self-rejection and self-hatred, is hidden behind the narcissist façade.
Interview with psychiatrist Reinhard Haller on craving for confirmation as mass psychosis
[This interview published on 8/31/2013 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.heise.de.]
The narcissist sees the goal of his efforts in the praises of others over his person. Thus he depends on the goodness of those whose confirmation he seeks and is not guided by his own impulses. Narcissism bears witness to a collapse or breakdown more than a strong personality. The phenomenon that has existed for millennia has become a mass psychosis today, according to psychiatrist and mania-researcher Reinhard Haller, author of the book “The Narcissism Trap” .
Mr. Haller, is the narcissist personality disturbance connected with economic, social and cultural changes?
Reinhard Haller: Narcissism is an elemental psychic force and part of the basic human wiring or constitution. Developing a healthy strong personality is impossible without narcissism. The dose is decisive. Too little self-confidence and powers of self-assertion lead to feelings of inferiority and neuroses; too much causes narcissist personality disturbance.
Narcissism has always existed. In earlier centuries, narcissism could only be lived by the powerful and rich, a small privileged group. A generally welcomed democratization of narcissism occurs today. This means anyone at least in the western world can satisfy many narcissist needs.
Development through the dominance of narcissism is problematic. Narcissism is not a sin or a psychic disturbance any more but a desired life form and ideal.
How important is narcissism for advancing in professional life?
Reinhard Haller: Narcissist characteristics like self-assuredness, powers of self-assertion, single-mindedness, determination and belief in one’s ability are career-accelerators. Thus narcissism at first represents a chance for a brilliant professional career. However these qualities prove to be barriers in the course of time. They repel and disgust fellow humans. No one is comfortable with the role of Yes-man and a rejoicing slave. When the narcissist loses his following, he becomes lonely. Since he does not allow criticism, he distances himself from reality. The fall is pre-programmed when he only lives according to his own laws. The many fraud- and financial trials against top managers and the frequent suicides are classical evidence.
To what extent is narcissism also a product of education?
Reinhard Haller: Education, particularly in the first years of life, is decisive alongside a certain disposition or inclination. The slogan here is the narcissism gene. If a child is only spoiled, admired and coddled, a pretentious narcissist attitude inevitably appears that continues in adult age. However the opposite of an over-solicitious education is also dangerous. If the primal need of a child for tende3rness, time, love and affection is not fulfilled, a child will seek attention and admiration like an addict all life long. The longing for the love withheld in childhood becomes a life-determining greed.
Masculine narcissism is more aggressive while feminine narcissism is more vain or conceited.
Is narcissism the same in the genders and in all social classes or is the phenomenon represented most prominently in men and the wealthy?
Reinhard Haller: Narcissism is more frequent among men than women… Masculine narcissism is more aggressive; feminine narcissism is more vain or conceited. Narcissist disturbances are obviously more widespread among stars and the prominent than in the average population. But hidden forms of narcissism occur in all population sectors like the chronic sickness, the parasitic exploitation of fellow persons or exclusively amorous relations with the other gender.
What accompanying phenomena (consumption, addiction, sex mania) does narcissism bring?
Reinhard Haller: The narcissist risks everything and develops an unsuspected constructive and destructive force. The narcissist basks in the fame or glory of even greater narcissists…. Through constant devaluation of his fellow persons, he stands out from the mass in his averageness. He is the one-eyed king among the blind. Like an addict, the I-maniac is driven by the obsessive longing for new experiences to expel the inner emptiness.
The momentous effects appear in criminology. Nearly all serial killers, dictators, assassins, poisoners, rapists or running amok suffer in the malicious form, malignant narcissism. This consists in a combination of extreme egocentrism, sadism, asociality and paranoid mistrust toward humanity.
In your work, you describe narcissism as a misdirected development and absolutizing of positive qualities, not as something purely negative. What are these positive qualities? Can you illustrate this connection in more detail?
Reinhard Haller: The positive effect of a narcissist development appears in ego-strength, personality growth, self-confidence and healthy powers of self-assertion. Normal narcissism manifest in vanity or pride is annoly8ing but not pathological. A pathological disturbance, narcissism, arises when all these personality traits come to a head.
Christoph Lasch  once wrote: “Narcissism has more to do with self-hatred than self-admiration.” Do you agree?
Reinhard Haller: On closer examination, narcissism has nothing to do with self-love since the narcissist cannot love anyone, not even himself. Rather narcissism involves self-infatuation. The narcissist has a craving for superficial love and affection as an addict is driven by longing for hollow feelings of intoxication. A very fragile self-esteem, often even self-rejection and self-hatred, is hidden behind the narcissist façade.
Normal or constructive narcissism is regarded as very smart or trendy today.
Does a narcissist notice that he is narcissist?
Reinhard Haller: The repression of the egocentric claimant attitude and extreme vulnerability often make the narcissist blind. To quote a saying from the Bible, he sees the splinter in the eye of fellow persons, not the log in his own eye. In his magnificence, he cannot have any flaw or any error, no narcissist disturbance. On the other hand, normal or constructive narcissism is considered very smart today so some cultivate and profess it.
Can narcissism be cured? What measures do you recommend when a life partner develops into a narcissist?
Reinhard Haller: Narcissist conduct only needs a therapy when someone suffers under it – either the affected or his environment. When treatment is really necessary, the chances for recovery are good. Conversational- and group therapy, psychoanalysis and behavioral therapy have proven successful.
For grave forms of narcissism, the therapeutic prospects are rather limited. A person who is narcissist to the core will hardly change himself. When a life partner develops into a narcissist, it is very important for others to keep a distance and not take the role of so-called “complementary narcissists.”
Video: Jean Twenge’s “The Narcissism Epidemic,” 2009 on BookTV